Thomas Keller likes to season open wounds with a pinch of salt. I know from experience. There I was on my couch suffering from an extreme case of post-trip depression, when on comes a commercial with Chef Keller singing the praises of American Express. He carried on about the charm of tiny Yountville, California, which by itself had me on the brink of tears, but then he went for the jugular. The camera cuts to a shot of Sir Thomas, sitting in a booth at his famed Bouchon Bistro - the exact same booth we dined in just two days earlier. Talk about kicking a man while he's down.
|The unique exterior and patio|
We chose to dine at Bouchon for what I'm sure is a common reason: the price of Thomas Keller's other, more iconic, outpost down the street - The French Laundry - was simply more than I could stomach. The wallet had endured enough suffering, considering we came to Napa by way of Pebble Beach. Still, with a Michelin star of its own, Bouchon Bistro would receive top billing just about anywhere else in the country. In Yountville - home to more Michelin stars than traffic lights - it's an incredibly talented understudy.
Stepping inside Bouchon was like taking a trip across the Atlantic. The red awning, mosaic tile floor, chalkboards listing today's specials, and the noise - plenty of noise - all combined for a feel that was more Latin Quarter and less Yountville. If a quiet, private dining experience is what you're after, Bouchon is not the place for you, because the tables are packed closer together than the middle seat in coach. On the other hand, those that have a love for Paris will feel right at home.
|The crowded dining room|
As I opened the neatly folded paper menu, I half expected the inside to read "Do you like me? ~ Yes ~ No." The feeling was appropriate, given the school boy level of excitement that bubbled over as my eyes scanned over the enormous menu. I was unsure of even where to begin, but the raw bar seemed as good a place as any...
|The enormous shrimp cocktail|
It's rare that I visit a restaurant for the first time and know exactly what I'm ordering before I get there, but having seen countless reviews mention the Steak Frites, my mind was made up well in advance. The steak was perfectly cooked, however it was the layer of shallots which caused my extremities to tingle. The fries were nice and crispy, although a little boring without an aioli of some sort for dipping.
|Butter on steak...yes please|
MJ went with one of the specials of the evening: the roasted pork chop. It's a good thing we arrived when we did, because shortly after we placed our order the server came to the nearby chalkboard to erase it from the menu. MJ rarely orders pork, but serving it on a bed of polenta and mushrooms was an easy sell for her.
|MJ's pork chop|
|Ask and ye shall receive - Eclairs from Bouchon Bakery|
|MJ's boring selection off the menu - The Pot de Creme|
In the end, I hold no ill feelings toward Chef Keller for kicking me while I was down, because he more than offset the slight with our incredible experience at Bouchon. The food, service, and atmosphere were all exceptional, providing one of the more memorable meals of our California adventure. Besides, how often can you say you've dined at the same booth as one of the greatest chefs in the world?
Enjoy Your Stay